I grew up the youngest of five in a model, all-American family: Church, vacations, weekly family dinners, Mom in PTA and all of us kids in Sports of one type or another.
I grew up with a tight knit group of friends from Pre-School on through HS. I had the same Teachers as my siblings before me, and them before the next. Being the youngest I somehow managed to earn the title and Mom's little caboose, her favorite; to this day I believe, or would like to at least think, that the title still stands.
I knew I had it good growing up, blessed with a very close family, with nothing but green pastures ahead.
As I made my way through Elementary School sadly I witnessed my friend’s families splitting up, divorcing, families in which you would have never seen it coming. It was sad. I always felt so bad for them, though I did not know what to say or how to support them. I could not relate. As I entered Middle School the trend carried on, this time with various extended families that I was very close to. I grew up having sleepovers and by this time sneaking out with their kids. Again, no idea what to say or how to best support them. I still could not relate. My family was rock solid…right?
Wrong. Our ticket was up, sadly. What I had not realized, or understood, was that my parents had been on the brink for years, and the dam finally burst. By today’s standards, and even when compared with the families that I have had the chance to work with over the years, it still takes the cake of one of the nastier Divorces. No one came out unscathed.
“My mom did her best. Though as a teenage boy going through a family break up, she had to admit to me, as well as herself, “This is my first time at this as well. I don’t know what to do or say, except I am sorry for what you are going through.”
My dad immediately took the first out he could and moved several States away. And what used to be the once vibrant family home, within no time turned into a quiet desert of just Mom and me.
I now knew how those others before me felt. It was lonely, empty and surreal. Now the family and friends that I had grown up with, were part of my DNA, if you will, slowly began to creep away. They did not know what to say or how to console me, because they could not relate. Now I was on the other side of the fence. My mom did her best. Though as a teenage boy going through a family break up, she had to admit to me, as well as herself, “This is my first time at this as well. I don’t know what to do or say, except I am sorry for what you are going through.”
Before this time in my life I had never skipped School, I always terrified of what would happen if my dad found out about it. Growing up he was solid with fear motivation and I will admit, it worked for the most part. Well, with him no longer in the picture and just feeling lost I just could not sit around a boring classroom and listen to the Teacher, act engaged and feel the awkwardness with my 'used to be close friends' sitting all around me. So one day, I just decided to go do something else. "Anything other than sitting in class one more day," or at least that day, I thought. So I skipped School one day. Nothing happened. Wow! So I decided to go ahead and not go again. It was at least bearable walking around town, exploring and finding anything that I could do to take my mind off of the pain of life at hand.
This quickly became a theme. And soon, I had to answer for it … sort of. My mom found out about all of the School I had been missing and confronted me, in a very sympathetic and eager to understand sort of way. I explained I just didn’t have it in me. In hindsight, I was grieving.
We got called into the Principals office to visit about what was going on and where do we go from here. As mentioned at the beginning, everyone knew our family at my School. My siblings had all attended the same School, and of course gossip gets around. Everyone knew my family had fallen.
With this in mind, as opposed to any serious consequence, I got some coaching and a pat on the back. From that moment on I felt like the world had just handed me a blank check. I was thinking to myself, “Seriously, there is not a single person on this planet that is going to hold me accountable here? Ok, I can go with this." A very dangerous notion for a 15-year old kid going through the breakup of his beloved family!
From that point forward I went from down-in-the-dumps-lonely-kid, to you-will-never-see-me-at-School-again, Alternative School or not. And hey, while I am at it why not really check out and start smoking pot and drinking with my “new friends” while I am it? My 'new friends' consisted primarily of kids a couple of years older than me, whose parents had already divorced or were just neglectful. They could come and go as they pleased. They had already been kicked out or dropped out of School. Several had already been arrested, and some several times. This was a recipe for disaster. And for many of you, this may begin to sound very familiar, or at least it will soon enough.
I went from a victim of my parent's life decisions to The Leader of My Own Destruction, and in several instances, the leader in the lives of other kids around me as well. I was on a war path and nothing could slow me down nor get in my way. I was on a race to the bottom vs. myself.
Sweet Mamma Bear was now locking up her Den at night to avoid missing items and money in the morning. Items and money that would only be tools to help fuel her sons fixation on personal destruction.
Moving forward a bit, I am certain many of you can fill in the gaps to this point … My mom had tried counseling with me, she tried to be stern, she tried to give me space, anything and seemingly everything…
We went through a row of Therapists, “Let’s talk about feelings" … "Let's draw this or that" … "If you want to just sit there, you can we don’t have to talk, if you do not want to ...” I even had one Therapist, for about 6-weeks, and I have no idea what the person’s name is because we really never spoke, but I would go to his office after School take a nap on the couch, leave and go make my plans for the night!
For a while I felt in control. People feared me, avoided me, some even envied me. It was all relative, as long as I could do what I wanted at any given moment, I didn’t care. This feeling did not last for too long though. Eventually it did become lonely. Very lonely. I realized that the 'new friends', were actually the biggest losers I had ever met. I had parted so far from the real friends that I grew up with that they wouldn’t have anything to do with me, nor would their parents allow them to, which was a great call on their part … because I was now “that kid.”
I had fallen so far from the person I once was. I was raised well, with love, kindness, open doors for the Elderly, I did chores growing up, you know the type. I was consumed with all of my toxins and now left with nothing but a shattered life, too much to put together on my own, too prideful to ask for help and no trust or rapport with anyone willing to help. I was a mess.
Moving forward, my mom was at work when a friend approached her and shared that she had read up on an Academy kids that were in my same shoes. My mom started doing her homework and knew instantly that this was the solution she'd been seeking, new environment, sober, structured, far away from home, academics; this was like being able to hit the reset button for my entire life.
For my mom, trying to help me up to that point had been like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall, and she'd ran out of nails, months prior.
Within a few days she had completed the paperwork, gathered my belongings and I was off. I was livid. I made sure that message had not gone unnoticed. For the first time in a while, I had no control any longer. Though the dirty little secret that I would not admit to anyone for some time was that I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders. Though I was still locked in such a power struggle with the world, I could not let my guard down for sometime. I was only worried that I would look weak or wrong, not really what I was looking to project at the time.
The night that I arrived at my destination, they let me take a shower to wash off the day’s travels. I recall looking in the mirror, staring into my eyes for the first time in, in a very long time. I peered into my soul and said to myself, “Thank God it is finally over.” I had no clue where I was, who I was with, what I would be doing, how long I would be there…though I did know for a fact my mom loved me and would have done her homework and landed me softly into a place in life that I would be taken care of, have a chance to stop the chaos in my life, and from there it would be up to me to flourish or fail. This seemed like a pretty fair proposition.
I chose to flourish. I loved it. I still do. That is why I am here working with kids and families.
What a lucky guy I am to bear witness to the same “me” of long ago, watching one kid after the next get that same second chance. A moment for each kid to step away just once in life from the chaos, loss, loneliness, anger and choose to explore and love life, and become reunited with their families, for life!
“Lucky for me, my mom choose wisely. Somehow, by a miracle she put aside distance, time and money. She was willing to sacrifice her needs over her son’s future. That’s what Mama Bears do!”
My mom and I remain best friends to this day. She is an amazing woman, and it is rare that we go a day without checking in on one another.